THE 2017 Mopani Copper Mines Cosafa Under-20 Championships gets under way this afternoon as the newest batch of young hopefuls in this age-groups seeks to add their name to the trophy.
Hosts Zambia, who are also African champions, will be among the heavy favourites, but they begin their campaign with a virtual new group of players as the country looks ahead to the 2019 African Youth Championships.
Zambia will take on East African guest nation Uganda in their Group A opener at the Arthur Davies Stadium in Kitwe (kick-off 17h30; 15h30 GMT), when an expectant home crowd will be on hand to cheer them on.
The home side have included highly-rated fullback Edward Chilufya of Swedish club Djurgardens in their squad as the only survivor from last year’s winning team.
“He is the only player still eligible to play in the next U20 Afcon qualifiers so he is part of this team,” coach Mumamba Numba told reporters.
“We thought that since he was in the country, and we had an injury, we needed to replace someone that is why we brought him to join his colleagues.”
Uganda are something of an unknown entity, but just as with the rise of their senior national team in recent years, they will be difficult opponents.
Also in action on the opening day are Swaziland and Malawi, who contest the first game of the tournament in a Group A clash at the same venue (kick-off 11h30 local; 09h30 GMT).
Both sides would be considered outsiders for the title, but Malawi in particular have found some joy in this competition in the past.
The first game in Group B will also be played as Mozambique tackle North African guest nation Egypt (kick-off 14h30 local; 12h30 GMT).
Egypt will bring technical excellence and structure, while Mozambique are known as a more flamboyant side that relies heavily on its skilful players.
Only the top team in each pool advances to the semi-finals, along with the best-placed runner-up.
The semi-finals will be played on December 14, with the third-place play-off and final to be staged at the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola on December 16.
Zambia have been the most successful side in Cosafa Under-20 Championships history with 11 titles, followed by Zimbabwe (six wins), South Africa (five) and Mozambique (one). All the Cosafa Under-20 Championships matches are live on Kwesé Free Sports.
Zimbabwe’s Young Warriors are not in action tomorrow when they take on Lesotho in their first group encounter at the Nkana stadium.
After the Lesotho fixture, Zimbabwe will have a clash with Angola at the same venue three days later.
They round out their pool play with a match versus Namibia at the Arthur Davies Stadium on December 11.
The carrot being dangled in front of the Zimbabwean players are the number of scouts from mostly South African clubs who will be at the tournament to look out for new talent from a country that has a long history of sending quality players to play in the South African league. — cosafa.com.